Lopez, Island.

Trigger Warning: Teen Sex Abuse

I told you earlier that a friend was doing guided meditation on me, went down to the point I could, then pulled in a humorous story about Sam because I couldn’t take it. I couldn’t tell you another story in which I felt emotionally abused, because I was a ninth and tenth grader. At the time, I thought I was making friends.

I wasn’t. I was an accessory. The person chosen to sit in the classroom so that one of my friends and our teacher could get away with an affair. I unwittingly protected a sexual predator who was actually fucking one of my friends and I didn’t say shit. I don’t feel guilty for two reasons. The first is that I was never older than 15 in their presence. I don’t know what would have happened if I’d stayed at HSPVA, and I don’t mind saying where it happened because I found out later that everyone knew. The second is that I was in an emotionally abusive relationship with someone 11 years older. In my head, we’d each found love. Neither my friend nor I knew it was toxic until years later…. and I don’t think my then-love thought of it as abuse, either. I think she thought she was treating me like I treat my own daughter, the one I adopted through the rainbow flag. We are our own country. No woman is an island, to paraphrase John Donne.

Or at least, that’s what I thought about my friend and me. I thought Lopez definitely was…. she could get away with anything and my friend was so lucky. She got everything I wanted and a bag of chips. What stopped it from happening in my case is beyond me, because all the grooming was there. I just got lucky. Whatever it was that stopped her, I think it was positive now. She had me dead to rights back then.

I was just as genderfluid/genderqueer as I am now. I always felt a bit of white knight valor, as if saving her was up to me. It’s a pattern I struggle with to this day. I want to save everyone. Every little girl. Every woman…. and even though they’re a minority in terms of sexual violence, boys and men. I can’t think about children being put through any of this. Even if it’s just grooming that sets up a trigger and not actual intercourse. It’s especially egregious in little boys, because it’s before the weight of the world is on them to be a man. So they’re raped or molested while they’re still young enough to be sweet and affectionate and every bit as kissyface as little girls are…. and then that shit gets buried, because no one wants to hear their pain. Sexual trauma is difficult. It’s even more difficult to exorcise when “being a man” means “cut off all your emotions and never speak of anything but how angry you are.”

I feel it’s another reason I can love Daniel for all he’s worth, which is a hell of a lot. I knew him befoe life broke him. I knew him before anyone ever said “buck up, buttercup.” I had forgotten, but he remembered that our “first date” was to the Caldwell Zoo in Tyler, Texas. My mom was with us that day. I know she was, she was one of our substitute teachers that year… actually, I’m not sure that I had a year where my mom wasn’t my substitute in elementary except K-2. So many great memories, and Daniel was there for all of them.

For instance, my mom and John Brennan have both taken me to Egypt. It’s just that my mom was first.

The connection to Brennan is a scene from “Undaunted,” his autobiography. When he was young, he went to University of Cairo. Picturing John at like, 19 or 20 riding around the city high as hell on hashish and getting his ear pierced is just as much of a happy place as Beirut. I have John’s number. Invite him to Cairo, and leave an earring and some hash on the table. What I wouldn’t give to hear his stories, even ones I’ve already heard before, in his own patois.

My mom and dad went to Israel, Egypt, and Jordan when I was small. I have always wanted to walk the Bible like them, and was even more obsessed with the idea when Bruce Feiler published a book called “Walking the Bible,” an atheist’s journey. The ending is too rich to spoil, but he ends up Jewish (Beth dies, he was dead the whole movie, K has a daughter). They brought all kinds of cool stuff home, and then Mrs. Watson had to have her thyroid out.

Enter Carolyn Lanagan with all her cool Egyptian accessories.

Keep in mind this is a *substitute,* okkkkkkk. I have never seen anyone more dedicated to their job. Mrs. Watson was out for practically the whole year, and we didn’t watch a movie once. She ruined me for every sub ever. I never paid attention to any of them. I was a blogger even then, I just couldn’t type.

Though I can’t speak for them, I am sure most of my classmates will remember walking into the fifth grade hallway and seeing the lights dimmed, all the chairs arranged like the rows on an airplane, and the three fifth grade teachers handing out handmade American passports and *personalized* plane tickets. I probably also remember a little bit better than they do because of the time it took to create such a thing.

I am not sure, but I think my mother had a PC at home. I know I had an old one in my room, but I don’t remember whether she just used mine when she needed it. I know that Mrs. Watson had an Apple IIe, but I don’t think my mom used that one, either, because it wasn’t in her classrom. In any case, I was the computer person, so I made *some* of the stuff for her. It’s not like it was hard. It was Print Shop and a dot matrix. I can’t remember what banner it was, but it was something with a plane and a piece of paper that looked like a menu.

It was. The teachers took drink orders.

The cart came by as the lights dimmed and we “took off.” In front of us was a screen full of pictures from my mom and dad’s trip. I saw my mom picking out my souvenirs, and I knew they were mine because I already had them. That day I think I was even wearing my Coca-Cola spoof shirt, the one that said “Enjoy Torah.” We all felt good, literally on air. My mom was really good at that for kids.

It wasn’t until she put me in a terrible position that I started to hate her as much as everyone else who was hurting me, because she became one of them. She saw what was happening with my abuser, and that I was going to be coming out of the closet whether she wanted me to or not. When I was 13, she just gave up. She didn’t know what the fuck to do with a lesbian daughter, so me running to a narcissist was seemingly fine. She noticed, but it was too late. They had me.

Then, when I was 15, she heard me talking on the phone to a girl I was interested in at school. She told me that I would *not* talk on the phone like that, I would not cause my father to lose his job like that. I was terrified. I could cause my father to lose his job? What in the actual fuck are you talking about?

Hell wasn’t that she said it. Hell was knowing she was right.

Or, at least, her fears weren’t unfounded. In the United Methodist Discipline, it says that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” I personally think that being a judgmental bastard of an organization is way more incompatible, but no one asked me. “Open hearts, open minds, open doors.” What a crock of shit. They can’t even hear themselves out loud. They are also perfectly happy for you to attend church as long as you don’t want to get married or ordained or in my ittle 15-year-old mind, both. They’ll also thank you for putting money in the plate while denying you all of these things.

In my case, it’s an eyeroll and “you know we can see you, right?”

If I was still a Methodist and actually cared about the organization, I would have fought tooth and nail for equality. It is criminal how the Church has managed to mangle Jesus’ from “widen the net” into “the gate should have closed after I got in.” No one likes gatekeepers, particularly because no one is good enough to do the job…. which is to destroy the gate altogether.

It was in this righteous indignation that I stopped caring what anyone thought of me. I am one of the most empathic people I’ve ever met, along with every close friend or partner I’ve ever had say that I’m too intense for them at some point or another. It’s not that I don’t feel. I have to cut off my emotions to stay alive. Everything that is a weight on the world feels like it’s on me as well. I’m not egocentric, I was made for this….. sort of. It’s an INFJ’s lot in life.

For me, it’s A LOT in life. I don’t go a second of any day without feeling somone else’s pain. One person’s in particular is wound around me. Another person’s pain is so far inside me no one will ever find it. And then there’s the two women that ratcheted up my libido before it was supposed to be ready.

I was one person’s first choice. I was on deck for the other. One of them was at church. One of them was at school. Women to absolutely rearrange my insides whenever they felt like it. Sometimes it was being particular to me over my friend to ensure that it looked from the outside that she was objective while she was fucking my fourteen year old friend. Sometimes it was flirting that seemed innocent until after my reality cracked.

Neither woman was an island…. or at least, the one I loved wasn’t. She was watched meticulously. She met with my mother and agreed to stay away from me. It injured us both and lasted three days. Because, see, we needed each other… just in completely different ways.

Lopez is an island.

The one true sexual predator out of all of the abusers I’ve known. It wasn’t me, but it felt like it…. especially when said friend wanted to hide the fact that she was in this relationship and probably also thought that she needed to take care of The Leslie Problem in case I got designs on “her woman.”

She was a visual artist. She made up a postcard calling me a predator and saying that I was out to harass/rape/whateverthefuck all the straight girls and made copies. Put them in people’s lockers. Had a shitty picture of e on them and everything. I mean, if you’re going to go to the hassle of making a poster that shits all over me, at least include a picture that actually looks decent.

That is how I eventually turned into an island. I shut down. It just took about 25 years. I didn’t know how fucked up my humor reflexes were until I got called out by three straight women that I love to the ends of this earth, and I blew it. The worst part was only realizing it in retrospect, because I lost all three friendships at the same time.

I am only now being networked again at my own hand. I haven’t had enough strength. I disappeared into myself for every reason imaginable. It’s nice to have a close mom friend, because I don’t have a mom. She’s not my replacement for her, just the one I go to when I have those sorts of issues. It was actually pretty funny, when I asked her if she could answer those mom questions, she said sure…. as long as I didn’t expect her to answer the same way that my own mother would have.

I choked a bit and said, “I think of you and my mother being alike in the same way that Tom Brady and I are both 43.” I have grown since then, I am 45. So has she. Before, she identified as a mom. Now she identifies as a dragon. Or a wolverine. She alternates, but whatever it is, it will eat your face off either way. The fire, teeth, and claws aren’t for me. They’re for anyone who dares try to hurt me. There are several people who I know would be under her pool if need be, but even though she’s a beast, she’s on a leash.

It’s the kind of love that makes me fight for my baby girl just as hard. We’re not blood, we’re queer. This is how we avoid the institutional pain of isolation. I adopted Cora so that I wouldn’t be an island, and neither would she.

Doctor Who Knows? Who? Nose.

He can’t leave. He’s The War Daniel.

I am not saying he did or did not leave. I am saying that I am wrestling over what kind of impact I’ve had and continue to have on someone I love to a nearly desperate, crazy amount. I just don’t show it. I haven’t seen his body in years, but I see his soul on paper multiple times a day, just bleeding out in front of me while I go blurry with teary eyes and back into my own history, particularly with alcohol. I’ve never truly had a problem, but I used to be really bad about counting and timing because if it had ice in it, I wanted some. I have literally gotten drunk by accident. I helped it to continue, but originally the loopiness came on because I was thirsty. I know how that plays out in an alcoholic’s eyes.

This is my experience from what my AA friends have told me, particularly the ones I’m closest to, but reflect a lot of people there. They can’t watch you sip. They can’t watch you take a drink and sit it down and walk away, then come back. It has nothing to do with cravings, or at least, over time it’s not about that. Over time, it’s shame. You have done something they could not. You left a drink on the table and walked away.

Something broke in me when Dana got her DUI. However, the way it broke let light in. When she was asked to go to these classes on alcohol and the brain, I went with her and sat in the back. I was in my 30s, it was like doing an extra rotation after going to medical school in the backseat of a Lexus.

I don’t diagnose anything, but I know a million symptoms and how they connect. I recognize things like shingles by the pattern. I can recognize the emotional fibromyalgia of trauma. As a resource, I am a great friend. I have the capability to listen and an acute awareness of when you are above my pay grade, Clown Shoes. The closer you are to me, the more I hug and kiss you while I tell you that you’re not only clown shoes, you’re all three rings and a big stripey tent……. and I wouldn’t have it any other way. All my friendships are this deep. I love my friends until they can’t take it. Literally. There have been meetings, most of them on what to do about me. 😛

Add alcohol rehab onto major trauma, and it’s just like real fibromyalgia. You might never get rid of it. You just have to manage it. My poet friend Wendy said this to me a hundred years ago, and it’s how I express this idea now that I’ve ripped her off verbatim for like 15 years…… She wrote me an e-mail that said, “you don’t have to love it, Leslie. You just have to live it.”

This is what I think to myself when I’m thinking about rehab and everything that goes with it. The semicolon and the ampersand, if you will. In fact,The War Daniel is the semicolon itself, and the ampersand is all that comes with him. Everything about who Daniel is contained in one punctuation mark (Full Stop and Keep Going), and everything that’s important to him in another. I have nicknamed it the “andhausen.” Daniel and his daughter will fall on the floor laughing at that.

I want to give it to them, because their word for the best of the best of the best is actually a suffix on the end of a word. For instance, Doc and Cora are Dochausen (or Danhausen) and Kidhausen, or Corahausen. Cora is not my daughter’s name. It’s from Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s novel.

[Incidentally, my favorite movie is now Argohausen. Bryn is going to love that. She calls me Rev. Argo. I did her wedding. I have literally married her. Just not to me…. I’m a Rev. in the Church of The Latter Day Dude because none of my friends wanted to wait until I finished grad school to do a ceremony I’ve had memorized since I was like, nine.]

Here is my own best of the best of the best. Daniel is “The War Daniel.” Cora is The Doctor’s Daughter. Do you see it now? Do you SEE IT?

The War Daniel is from Doctor Who. The War Doctor without an MD…. He’s not a fan, but says he wants to be. I hope when he sees John Hurt he will remember who he is. HE IS THE WAR DANIEL. I told him that if anyone needed a clarification, not to say to a Whovian that it was my own way of saying that he was my River Song, and that he wouldn’t even know for a few years what that even meant….. also that he could make very, very large men weep in the street, particularly in the UK.

I didn’t want to be married to this Doctor. I wanted to be married to all of them. I wanted the young boy. I wanted the teenager. I wanted the man he is. And I am so curious to find out what happens next. Literally I will watch this next regeneration that chooses the same face and hope to God he remembers that his companion is me. I’m your Amy, and you’re my Rory. You cannot even imagine how that feels. That out of nowhere, Rory Williams showed up…. and Rory is a nurse.

That’s just the Doctor Who connection. We haven’t started on MASH yet. Sorry, it’s not spelled right because my 8 key isn’t working, but you get it. Saying that he’s Hawkeye and Honeycut and Winchester and Potter all rolled into one is an understatement, because they never really got bombed. But all of these medical characters mean something to me, Hawkeye in particular. I have said for a long time that it was rough being a Hawkeye in a Frank Burns world…… and then Hawkeye showed up on my Internet front porch.

As Jill says, “you are really not subtle about hiding Daniel from all your friends. You only have one friend named Daniel on Facebook, and his last name is Williams.” Given that I think he’s part Rory, his last name counts. I was never trying to hide him. He told me that he’s an open book. I am sure that he is looking for a PowerPoint presentation on his flaws that’s just not going to come until I’m not punching down anymore. I want him fighting fit.

Yes, I’m terrible about hiding things. I should learn to leave so many less breadcrumbs than I actually do. But this is not one of them. I will wait and change my relationship status based on two things. The first is staying out of Facebook Jail long enough to do it, and whether or not this miracle occurs. I only own half.

Because here’s what I see. I see a writer that should be teaching how to write war fiction or journalism. It seems like everything I know politically boils down to David Halberstam’s books. I know I’m marrying The Best and the Brightest. If he were alive, he would approve… and probably retort that it will get better…. it’s just The Coldest Winter. The War Daniel has Pulitzer Prize talent. What he does with it is completely up to him. It’s just that the raw talent is there.

He’s also electable. He could do any job in this country, including president, because the US elects war heroes all the time. I know him. He would turn down POTUS in a heartbeat to get right to Veterans’ Affairs. The first time I brought it up, some light came into his eyes and he said, “I could help my brothers.” I’m just talking about his character. That’s the man I want to marry. I don’t care if we stay on the beach and do nothing. It’s not about that. It’s about seeing options and choosing from them (not always saying “this is the very best bad idea we have, sir. By far”).

Like choosing to have a daughter.

I have been “Other Mother” for a little while, and I have to say, I really enjoy it. Falling in love with a child is a whole different ball game. Here’s how much different. I am going to make you bawl, because I’m about to make myself bawl for like the 30th time so I am telling you, get the Kleenex.

Cora and I were talking about trans pain vs. queer pain and how they’re different and how they’re the same. I told her I felt like she was overfocusing on her own pain and that it might be holding her back from empathy.

Holy God I have never seen anyone turn around this fast. The next day, she was talking about getting new driver’s license, passport, etc. We were talking about names. I said, “Cora, I want to change your deadname for you a little bit so that you can think of it as someone else’s name, and only two people in the world know what it is…. and in fact, I would be very surprised if it was information retained. Is that okay with you?” She said, “sure.”

This may be telling tales out of school, but it needs to be.

“When Meagan and I were planning our own future, we picked baby names for our future son and daughter. Your deadname was going to be the same name as my own son should he have appeared, and isn’t it crazy that I named my son your deadname and your father, who I will remind you I have known since I was seven, thought of the EXACT SAME NAME for his kid.” It wouldn’t be a thing if it was a common name.

It is, but I wanted it spelled differently, and he picked the same spelling I wanted. Not so much “isn’t this eerie…. we’re mated now based on that one fact.” No. Bullshit. I just meant that great minds think alike. This time, really. An INFJ and an INTJ belong together. No one else can stand us. This has been proven to both of us time and again. 😛

Meagan proposed to me when we were 18. It was just as ridiculous as agreeing to marry someone who was going to rehab, but I said yes, anyway…… like two months before she noped back to Canada and found someone else. What is different about Daniel is that he is everything she’s not. She was a romantic who didn’t really think things through, and I could say the same about myself now except I’m almost 20 years older now and I’ve learned from my mistakes. He is a seasoned combat veteran and doctor. I will put his street creds up there with any trauma surgeon in the nation. His stitches may not be art, but you’ll live. If that kind of person can’t be trusted with my heart, it will only be due to incompatibility and/or timing. Not that he’s not the right person- for me or anyone else.

The first lesson in being older is don’t marry someone you think you love but underneath realize they’re kind of a jackass. Marry someone who wears their jackass proudly, like I do (and like many of my friends also do, because I wouldn’t love them as much if they didn’t).

Here’s why being a jackass is important to the story. I’m not the same person I was when I was 18, but I’m grateful to her, the woman I was. She protected me from me. She was a musician, yet alone. She found ways to disappear. She’d been outed at school and humiliated. It was ninth grade. By 12th, I’d had enough. I just wasn’t that smart. I did everything right, and I still got dumped in a terribly humiliating way, which is completely forgiven a hundred times over because her friendship has been so valuable… but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hell on earth back then.

In present day, after we’d talked about The Struggle, I told Cora everything about my name and why I hate it so goddamn much. Leslie is fine. The D is no longer with us. It humiliates me to even think about changing the name my mother gave me now that she’s dead.

Cora, in her empathy, said, “I have a name that I’m not using. Would you like to have it?”

When your child says something like that, their name could be Osama and you wouldn’t blink. I actually think Osama would be a cool name for me, based on the movie about the girl who had to become genderqueer on purpose to fool the Taliban into believing she was worthy of education and training. She’s adorable, and she has my heart…. and if Daniel and I ever travel to the Middle East, you can bet my gender non-conforming ass that I will carry her picture everywhere and say, “See? I’m like her. I’m just ancient.”

When I loved my name, I wasn’t ashamed of who I was. I was lonely. It was Meagan or nothing. I would have died rather than choose nothing, for only the simple fact that Southern women are sold a bill of goods that only one person will fulfill their every need until they die… forever and ever, to God be the glory, Amen.

I do not believe that. I believe that The War Daniel and I have woven through each other’s timelines, and because it’s always the future, there’s never a conflict…. no moments of “fixed point in time. I’m so, so sorry.” I also believe that being married to Dana was also wonderful, and being with Kat was adequate. It just wasn’t all wonderful, all the time…. and neither is this. It’s just a much bigger gamble. If I win, I win big. If I lose, I still played a part in keeping my friend alive.

Relationships can be built. Regenerations are a fairy tale told to children, and they work so wonderfully well because you do the same thing your whole life…. instantly recognizable on the outside. Completely different on the inside.

Same software, different case.

It was an astounding offer, one that could only be made by someone with childlike wonder and innocence. Someone who’d been beaten down by the world every bit as much as me. Her trauma might be more prevalent nowadays because people don’t understand the ideas of transgender or genderqueer as easily as they accept queer sexual behavior. I don’t know why it’s such a mystery that people have a spectrum of sexual behavior and gender identity, but it’s becoming more nd more true every day. I am just a regular queer, but people have been coming at me 20 years longer than they have Cora. Cora’s 24. She has no idea. None. I don’t think she even knows how big a sacrifice it is. To hear her deadname come out of my mouth, to see her letter where mine used to be… it’s too much for me. I can’t do that to her, even if it wasn’t her real reaction. I can’t take that chance. To be that careless with a deadname would be devastating if it hurt after the fact. I see her pain, she sees mine. I am sensitive to it in all ways.

Daniel and I might want to foster/adopt kids in the future. The first thing I did was ask Cora if it was okay. The girls (important, because our idea was getting children out of impossible situations, like being betrothed to a Talib fighter who is 47 years old) would be at least a decade younger, possibly more. It was important that she see my dreams as clearly as I saw hers, and we talk about them.

Last night, I remembered almost 20 years ago, curling up with the thought of my wife and my son….

I woke up this morning thinking of my daughter. The D is no longer with us, but only physically. I have a right hand ring that’s him all over. A claddagh with skeleton hands. My daughter and I are bonding without him, which is a very good thing for all three of us. You can’t be in love, or even think you love an alcoholic/addict until you’re ready to think about murder. We need each other. If for nothing else than going to Finland so he can stand out in one of FORTY BAZILLION FORESTS and take the band pic. It’s Finland. There’s only one.

Why yes, he did want to move to Helsinki at first. I’m glad you asked. I believe that I have talked him down off the ceiling by agreeing to go and live there for a little bit and see if we like it. As I was telling Zachausen the other day, “I’m using the Internet wrong. I don’t think I’ve even adapted to the reality that Air BnB is a thing we could do.” It’s just not all about us (Zachausen can come, too).

I got Cora at such an incredible time in my life, the part where she’s young and doesn’t have anything figured out and doesn’t know shit about Civil Rights or where we came from in terms of people like JFK, RFK, MLK, Bayard Rustin, and all of the best and the brightest Halberstam talked about. Talked about how three of the brightest stars in the Civil Rights firmament were all assassinated and how Bayard Rustin was out of he closet for ALL OF IT. MLK knew. Baptist preacher. Knew his top advisor was gay and didn’t give a damn, because he wasn’t perfect.

She also doesn’t know that Jesus isn’t perfect yet, but I will definitely disabuse her of that notion. Dude who killed a fig tree just because there wasn’t any fruit on it is not the picture of mental health you see before you today… you know, the one that’s white. What, like he’s the only baby born in Israel with French features? Seriously. Explain it to me like I’m five. Everyone around Jesus was brown. Get there faster.

I’m not pulling for her to choose Religion or Not Religion. Just that it’s a spectrum as well. One of the funniest things that The War Daniel has ever said was when he was angry, so it was not appropriate to laugh as loud as I wanted to… because it wasn’t Doc making me laugh. It was the characterization of “show me someone who can keep their anger in check when they’re angry and I’ll show you Jesus Christ.” I fell out thinking about how many tax collectors of the day might have taken exception to that.

Every day, I know more about Jesus just by being me. I’m not saying I’m divine, I’m saying that the Historical Jesus posited by Marcus Borg is very much like me. Being the son of God and a preacher’s kid can’t be all that different, right? Jesus was born to the Source. I was born to upper management. We were both baptized, but I’m going to bet that since he was an adult and I was an infant, he peed on John a lot less than I peed on Bishop Crutchfield.

But when you are baptized with the power of the Holy Spirit, stand up. Don’t you dare think you are any less than it is or Jesus was. We were never meant to be Jesus. Jesus was always meant to be us.

The writing that comes out of me when I’m thinking of Daniel and our daughter is better than anything I’ve ever written in my life, and it’s not all here yet. Some of it is praying The War Daniel to DC or Baltimore.

Some of it is praying we just make it through tomorrow and tomorrow without reliving yesterday.

Who knows? Who…. nose.

A right hand ring to show sup

Karen

My conversations with Daniel in preparing content are tough shit, and I am so glad that I’m a blogger because of it. When I go all up in my feelings, I have a place to express them without having to think about what he’s going to think when he reads the entry. It’s a mixture of fear and excitement, because if you get PTSD from combat, those are generally the only two emotions in a story.

And then there are things that make me bleed out, like telling Daniel why I have PTSD and Daniel explaining to me why mine was so much worse than his…… Daniel’s enemies were clearly defined. Mine were turncoats, both of them, at a time when I was too little to know that wasn’t okay and took it on as all my fault.

One of the things that’s so different with our two cases of PTSD is that I cannot define triggers before they happen. I’m fine one minute, and inconsolable the next. He actually has enough self awareness to say that he doesn’t like the sound of popping popcorn, because “that’s what M4s sound like when you put them on fully automatic.” He can do something that at this point, I cannot. He can tell me what his triggers are, and I can avoid them. I have tried to quantify what a trigger means to me for nine years, and I haven’t really come up with a good solution.

The biggest trigger I have is smell. Whether it’s my abuser’s old perfume, or the air smells just the way it did when I was standing there with that journal, asking what certain things meant. I think that is true for all trauma, the way the smell of the smoke in our recent house fire took me back to the one my family had when I was 11.

Music doesn’t bother me, generally, but there are a few choir pieces and opera arias that I have put away. If I’m in a church choir that is doing one of the pieces that for me, acts as a trigger, I don’t sing that day. I don’t even go to rehearsals that contain it.

One of the things that I’ve done for the last probably, ten years that I refuse to do now is minimize. Everything that has happened to me is now being given its full meaning and weight. I am no longer trying to make it look lesser than, that things weren’t as bad as I thought. In order to know how bad it was, you cannot just know my side of the story. You have to know the life story of the woman who emotionally abused me as well, and how that pathology affected me. I can only tell my story and a teeny, tiny part of hers. There’s so much more you will never find on this web site that you would find if you looked in other areas. For instance, none of our mutual friends except Dana has ever talked to my dad about what I was like as a teenager.

I can think of a few more I’d like to have him school. Some because I still don’t understand their reactions, some because I just want my people to know who I really am without pretense or bullshit.

I am coming into my power. I am 45 years old. Either this year or within a few years half of my life will be over, using my 92 year old grandfather as an example. A whole lot of shit I used to care about doesn’t even exist now in terms of my focus.

Like getting all upset because Daniel is in love with me and I know it. He has been for 36 years. Let me get this straight. A military doctor wants to be with me, and he’s telling me up front that he’s an alcoholic and has PTSD and is going to rehab to change himself and just wants another writer to lie next to in bed with both our laptops going…… and I’m going to freak out because he’s male and not female? I got this picture in my head of Jonna and Tony Mendez writing “The Moscow Rules” on a king-sized bed and thought, “why not?”

Here’s why I didn’t freak out, and it’s all my trans friends’ fault (I’m really grateful and I’m teasing). I realized that there was just enough man in me to be absolutely terrified that a straight dude wouldn’t like me AS A PARTNER. Straight dudes love me in general. Instead of thinking of myself as a bisexual woman, I had to game this relationship out as a trans man. This is because I knew that Daniel had never been in a gay relationship before, and so his reaction to my gender identity would never be negative, he just might be confused. I needed him to know that I express as male sometimes, and that has to be okay with him. Luckily, it very much is.

But this is just the beginning of a very, very long story. Please do not think that I have lost my fucking mind. Daniel doesn’t start rehab until January 5th. He lives in NE Texas. There is no possible way we will even see each other until his rehab is over, and that could take up to a few months. We’re talking about living separately for at least a year, because if he moves to DC we might screw ourselves over by skipping dating and just moving in. It wouldn’t be a deliberate screwover- DC is expensive and it might seem tempting to have one household “since we want to be together, anyway….” Eyeroll………

My perfect picture of Daniel and me is that we visit each other a few times in 2023, and then think seriously about stability after 2023 is over. This does not mean that we won’t be in contact at all, just not physically sharing the same space. Rediscovering each other through calls and letters for a year before going all in.

I am also not saying that Daniel is my forever person. I am saying that he’s one of them. Maybe it will be this fairy tale in which I suddenly transform into the perfect heterosexual wife. However, my money is not on that. My money is on Daniel becoming so important to me that he becomes a priority, and it is too damn early in our relationship to put constraints on what that actually looks like. Just be happy for me that I have someone that loves me and is in my corner. That if I get into a Situation, it’s handled. Don’t look into the future and try to pigeonhole us as friends or married. Let us decide that over the next few years on our own.

I am turning a corner in my sexuality. I am less sure about my gender than I ever have been, which has made me flexible about everything else. I was telling my friend Zac that I was feeling very non-binary, without the need to come out or change pronouns. How that plays out in my relationship with Daniel is that I feel like a partner, not the archetype one sees in their minds eye of a “wife.”

I have also been a wife before, but not to a man. My definition of “wife” comes from that context, and I don’t know enough about men to know whether my definition and theirs is similar. My saving grace is that Daniel is attracted to my personality. I don’t think he would have been attracted to me if I was male on the outside, because sexual orientation is a thing. But what I do know is that if I look at myself in the completely genderqueer, genderfluid, non-binary but doesn’t give a crap about pronouns kind of way, Daniel still loves that person.

I’m not becoming less. He’s becoming more. He’s opening himself up to the possibility of not being with the picture and definition of “woman” he’s always known.

It took me back a bit. All of the sudden, someone from my past reappeared, and I want to talk to her “privately.”

Dear Karen,

I remember the first time I saw you like it was yesterday. We were out in the sun at Chuy’s on Westheimer, and I was completely suckered in by your preppy attire. I mean obviously, my wife teased me about seeing you and running into a door for like four years. What might have seemed schoolgirlish actually made me relax and find peace within myself. You were the first woman I’d ever met who identified as straight and also wore men’s clothes without making it a big deal. Nine times out of ten, it was men’s styles in a women’s cut. Every time I looked at you, I saw a little more of who I wanted to be on the outside. I saw a style that fit me on someone else.

You might think it’s because I thought you looked like a lesbian. Actually, that’s not it at all. I saw the way your husband looked at you and realized that I was putting too much emphasis on my clothes. That what I wore wasn’t advertising anything. That if a straight woman could out butch me any day of the week, then wear whatever I want. Nothing about my wardrobe says that I am seeking attention from men or women.

I know this because now I’m divorced, it’s eight years later, and now a man wants to be with me. I said yes. I said yes because I looked at you on that warm April day, and knew that he would love me no matter what. I saw a style that fit me on someone else.

Best,
Leslie

The Voting Monolith

I hate to admit it, but not being on Facebook is really, really nice. I hid the icon on my iPhone and use Messenger exclusively. Turns out I don’t need to see when I have a like. I don’t actually care. If I want to know something, it’s probably about how the world works, or how to improve my relationships… not a contest to see how many people love me at any given moment. Why worry? I already know there’s a vast tens of you somewhere.

Apparently, I am a big deal in India.

My biggest collection of foreign readers used to be Australia (I’m American, Marylander specifically). I liked that a lot. Being associated with what is essentially a large island full of people descended from criminals directly appeals to my own sense of self. Actually, that may be one of the truest things I’ve ever said. I had an ancestor- I think his name was Anthony and went by “Tony Lanagan.” I’m not exactly sure where, but there’s still a Tony Lanagan in my family, just a much younger one.

Anyway, the ancestor was kind of rough and tough Irish. Ended up on the unlucky end of a murder. I am extremely forgiving because I don’t know what the world was like back then. Yes, my ancestor was innocent in that incident where he died. Was he always innocent? Unclear.

I can’t think of many instances in which I would actually “be gay and do crime.” Well, at least until the Supreme Court takes me to my concentration camp.

Too dark? Fuck you, no it’s not. I’m not the only one warning of complete collapse. Remember when I was out in front of the Iraq war? Just one of those Portland libtards who turned out to be absolutelyfuckingright. Does this entry sound angry? It kind of is. But actually, don’t take all my ire as anger. It’s also abject fear, hoplessness, anxiety, depression, etc. Nothing is scarier to me than undoing progress.

Yesterday the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on Affirmative Action and the conservative supermajority is poised to overturn. Biden better pack that court IMMEDIATELY if he doesn’t want to be responsible for the downfall of all the human rights we’ve already won by the time he moves on. What a fustercluck. How sad is it that so many politicians are so popular in America and get elected easily, but because those votes didn’t come from a particular geographic location, it screws everyone in the country. So maybe do away with the Electoral College while we’re at it.

If gay marriage, Affirmative Action, Roe, and Griswold all fall (and they very well could), it points to overturning Lawrence v. Texas as well. You know, the laws that made gay sex illegal? If women have no right to abortion and no right to privacy, why do you not think gay sex won’t be on the chopping block? We’ll go back to being personified sin wishing we’d left when we had the chance. If you remember the entire world coming for Jews and gays, you better start digging that shit back up. I’m not going through that again, and I’m pretty sure the Jews are also with me on this, capiche? Get your shit together, United States.

God, I’m sure this could be signed by every minority in this country.

It’s also a sick, sick internal feeling to be white and a minority at the same time in the age of “White Fragility.” It does absolutelyfuckingnot (using it again because Heather likes it) feel like a picnic wanting to join “The Movement” and have half the black community be with us and the other half hate us so much. The Black Church is known for many, many things that are wonderful. They’re also known for treating the queer community like absolute shit.

I am not stupid enough to think that black and gay people are having the same experience of the United States. It’s not possible. But what I will say unapologetically is that even though our two paths diverge in the woods, if we each walk a mile in each other’s shoes, we can tell where they might pinch the other’s feet.

We are better together than we will ever be apart, especially as a voting monolith.

And I’m just going to leave that right there, because the truth bomb needs to sit awhile. What are we going to do? We don’t have the option to do nothing.

Sermon for Pride Sunday 2021

When Tara asked me to speak on “What Pride Means to Me,” I said yes… Then, I sat down at my desk and e-mailed a friend. In that moment, all I was feeling was that I wasn’t particularly proud of being gay. It seemed like taking pride in brown hair… or brown eyes… or being able to eat a medium pizza all by myself. These things weren’t unique, just intrinsic to me.

As I wrote, that feeling lasted for five minutes. For five whole minutes, I forgot the rest of the world exists. It came crashing back, bringing me a sermon seed. From the riots at the Stonewall in to the foreseeable future, pride isn’t about being gay. Pride is about your reaction to others’ disappointment, fear, and anger at something that doesn’t need an opinion.

In fact, homophobia, transphobia, and acts against the queer community fueled by hatred conspire to form the perfect storm. Lightning bolts come at us through major events. Sodomy laws weren’t completely abolished until 2003. Gay marriage wasn’t legal until 2008. AIDS has been a never ending struggle because it has been the proof that conservative Christians needed that being gay was a sin and we could die from it. Conservative Christians are still struggling with the sin aspect, when other scientific progress has been institutionalized. For instance, we no longer think of the left-handed or the divorced as morally bankrupt.

Hypocrisy echoes like thunder all around us.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus and the Disciples are out on a boat in what is now Lake Kinnaret, then called the Sea of Galilee. Mark writes that it is storming, and Jesus is asleep in the boat. The Disciples are scared, and wake Jesus up. They say, “Teacher, do you not care that we are in peril?” In short, what they want is for Jesus to wake up and help bail water.

Biblical stories are often told in parables. This one is not spoken by Jesus, but imparts a lesson all the same. In the Bible, storms are often used to represent chaos. The Disciples internalize it by saying, “Teacher, do you not care that we are in peril?” Jesus isn’t having it. Instead of working through the storm, he yells at it.

It obeys.

The AIDS crisis begat the slogan “silence equals death.” To me, that plays right into our gospel, because as all these messages of fear and hatred are coming at our community, progress is not measured in how well we go along, but how well we stand out.

We dismantle chaos when we yell at it. We dismantle chaos when we refuse to take it in. The storm is not of us, it is around us.

What pride means to me is not pride in the fact that I’m gay. It’s pride in yelling at the storm, even when my voice was shaking.

Amen.

The One That’s Mostly About My Sister

It’s the middle of the night and I just randomly woke up. I can’t get back to sleep, so I’m going to tell you about a funny conversation I had with Sam and then start reading. If I’m not hooked, I’ll go back to bed. If I am, I can’t think of a better way to spend a few hours than blissed out on the dopamine of a good book.

So, Sam wished me a happy Pride. We were talking about the events, and I asked her when the parade was. Then, I said, “I used to feel embarrassed about having to ask straight people when the parade was, but then I realized that no introvert willingly knows when events this size happen. We know it’s coming up, but we’ll wait until we know the approximate date and time before asking the exactly details.” I think it’s because we’ll spend time being anxious about the crowd- it’s sensory overload on every level imaginable. I like to be surprised with answers like “it’s tomorrow” or “it’s three days from now.” I do not want to know that the Pride parade is in three months. That’s three months of worrying about how to participate in the smallest increment of time possible.

She replied by telling me when it was (I don’t remember now…. I’ll have to look it up….. again), and then said that straight people like to be asked when the Pride parade is because they like proving they’re in the know. They like being thought of as “hip.”

Fine with me. I am not hip. I am the worst gay who ever gayed.

I’ve really only had one Pride parade that was so fun I never wanted the night to end. My sister marched with me, and we were both really young. I think she was 15-16, so that would have made me 20 or 21. There is nothing better than seeing the Pride parade through a kid’s eyes, because they notice everything and their perspective is just, well….. It’s better. They’re blown away by the floats, beads, flags, etc. and they just want to love you up and make you feel appreciated. They GET IT. Kids understand better than most adults, because they don’t like it when they feel like their loved ones are being attacked for something they can’t change, and the idea of one night to celebrate with a big party in the middle of the streets is catnip to a teenager. I think the meaningful parts of Pride move her differently than me, and I can tell you exactly why. If someone’s going to hate their sibling, it has to be them. Anyone else is just asking for a knock-down drag-out. Earrings will be taken out. Ponytails will be hastily made.

It’s not just the neighborhood block aspect. It’s also that my sister isn’t gay. She hasn’t had years and years and years of being picked on, so she has no immunity to it. We’ve never had this conversation, but I think it’s a tiny bit like Quentin Tarantino being worried that Jamie Foxx would recoil at saying the n-word while filming “Django Unchained.” Foxx said not to worry. It was Tarantino that was going to be uncomfortable, because for him, it was just Tuesday. If you are queer, homophobia and transphobia are just the iocaine powder to which we’ve built up immunity.

The struggle did not go unnoticed. The Pride parade impacted my sister’s life just as much as it did mine. She gave me so much self-confidence and love. I gave her the will to take on state and federal legislators who want to outlaw trans medicine by exposing her to what was going on in my community early and often.

My sister is pretty much the straightest straight woman I know, but at the same time, I’ve “raised her” to be a better gay person than I’ll ever be. Like, there’s no contest.

She’s a lobbyist for a federally funded health clinic that serves the queer community, working in Austin and DC. She knows more about queer issues than I’ve forgotten, and if I have questions about trans medicine, she’s the person I ask first (I’m not trans, I just always have questions about medicine). She was one of the people fighting prohibition of giving teenagers puberty blockers and the ban on trans girls in sports.

I don’t have the desire, will, or stamina to talk to Texas Republicans about that, because the fact that puberty blockers would alleviate their concerns was beyond them. Puberty blockers are a non-permanent way to treat gender dysphoria in children while giving them plenty of time to see a therapist and decide if they’re happy with their bodies as is, or whether they’d like to have surgery. It also gives them an “out” if they decide not to transition at all. As soon as you stop taking the pills, puberty resumes. I can’t imagine the disgust I would feel for my body if my entire brain was wired as male and I started seeing breasts grow in. By keeping trans people’s bodies immature, it also makes surgical transition easier later, because your face hasn’t grown into the appearance of your assigned gender- the one people decided for you because you’d just been evicted from your first apartment and measured on the Apgar scale.

For trans women, this could mean that their Adam’s Apples aren’t as pronounced and their facial features stay soft. For trans men, this could mean that their hips don’t widen in preparation for childbirth, they don’t start menstruating, and they only have to have bottom surgery later on.

It’s also misogynistic that this stuff is being targeted at trans girls, because I’ve never heard a legislator talking about males assigned female at birth and how that would affect boys’ teams. No one brought up trans men during the bathroom bill debate. It’s almost as if being female is the problem.

I don’t have the chutzpah to even read this blog entry to legislators, but my sister will keep knocking down obstacles on my behalf.

She is my Pride.

Dear Black People,

I hope that you are not offended by my opening salvo, but one of my favorite shows on Netflix is “Dear White People,” and it seems rude not to write back. However, I am not here to be as flip and funny as that show. For instance, there will be no take-downs of shows that made me laugh so hard there were tears and snot running down my face. I hope and pray there will be no “white people are weird” moments, because I agree with you. I’m just here to talk about yesterday, and what it means for our collective futures.

I have said many times that no minority has the capability to be racist. Prejudiced, sure, but not racist. This is because racism is clearly a top-down, systematic, institution. No minority has the kind of power to create such a thing.

Though I would never compare my own struggle to yours, I feel so much empathy and sympathy toward it. Even though I’m as white and nerdy as they come, I am a woman and a lesbian, two things that have worked against me my entire career.

The one shining moment of equality that I’ve ever experienced was in Texas, of all places. I needed two forms of ID to get my driver’s license renewed, and I realized that I only had one… my old driver’s license. And then I remembered that I had a copy of Dana’s and my domestic partnership license from Oregon in my backpack, and I asked if they would take that. There was the usual “let me ask my manager,” but then they said “yes.”

I’ve also experienced some truly cringeworthy moments, the white people are awful moments that we share- the difference being that people can immediately tell that you’re black. They can almost immediately tell that I’m female. But knowing I’m a lesbian is just conjecture until I come out to them. It is not the same, but I hope that we can share some common ground.

For instance, when I was in high school, I told one person that I was a lesbian and two hours later, the entire school knew. One of the percussionists in my orchestra used to hold up Playboy centerfolds where the conductor couldn’t see them and whisper at me to look in his direction. It was mortifying, and it went on for days.

Later in life, I had a boss who spent 30 minutes talking about her children. She said, “I know you’re not going to have any, so I guess you can talk to us about your cat like that.” She also forced me to wear make-up because she said that I always looked like “I didn’t feel good.” Believe me, I was much more comfortable in my own skin without makeup, because while I am not androgynous, I’m not a girly girl, either.

When I was a teenager, I worked at an early childhood daycare center. They didn’t know that I heard them say I shouldn’t be around children, but they didn’t know if they could fire me for that. Over the next few weeks, there was a concerted effort to make me look incompetent instead.

Another story from my junior year in high school was that I had who I thought was a fantastic English teacher, and she would ask me to do things like help her with bulletin boards. I felt safe enough to come out to her, and after that, she had me transferred into a different class.

I realize that the last few paragraphs seem like I’m trying to make this entry all about me, but that is not my intent. I am trying to say that I will always be a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, because if I have had these experiences, you have stories that are 80 times worse.

Yesterday, while the verdict was being read on Derek Chauvin’s case, police shot and killed a 15-year-old girl. She had a knife and was not only lunging at another girl, she lunged toward the police. What I will never understand is why lethal force was necessary in that instance. Perhaps the police could have used defensive moves to take away the knife. Perhaps they could have used a taser to get her to drop the knife altogether so that they could get her into custody alive. She would have stood trial and probably done some time in juvie, but at the end of it, she would have been able to come home to her parents. Shooting four bullets at her was not, and should never, be the answer.

It should be known that the police are also trigger happy with white people, but the reason the Black Lives Matter protests are so important is that the police act as judge and jury in the moment and decide the punishment is death at a rate far greater than they have ever done when white people commit a crime.

Timothy McVeigh is a prime example. He blew up an entire building in Oklahoma and was taken alive to jail. The important part here is that though he died at the hands of the state, it was a jury’s decision. No police officers decided to kill him in that moment, at the site.

We can also add Dylann Roof to the mix. He killed nine people at a Charleston AME church, and was taken alive- even given Burger King on the way to the police station after a manhunt that lasted two days. He did not receive the death penalty, but life imprisonment. So, even though he will never live with his family again, they will get to come and visit. And again, he got to stand trial. No one in that manhunt decided that they were responsible for punishing him.

Getting caught stabbing someone is the least of our worries. Let’s start with the idea that black kids and adults can apparently be killed for holding anything. A toy gun (Tamir Rice), snacks (Trayvon Martin), and it was a cigarette that provoked the white cop’s ire in the Sandra Bland case. Worse, black people don’t even have to be holding anything. Ahmaud Arbery was killed while jogging through a park, though not by the police- by white supremacists in Georgia.

So now we’ve arrived at the part where it’s not just the police. It is all white people, clearly some more extreme than others. Most white people would not identify themselves as racists because they aren’t physically or emotionally violent towards minorities, particularly black people.

Or are they?

I get that most people aren’t physically violent, but the emotional piece is ever-present and pervasive. Believe me when I say that most of the time, white people do not even realize what they’re doing. They have grown up in a racist system that they can’t even see because it’s always been there. White supremacy is still a problem; extremists still exist. But every white person in America has committed the sin of blindness. I am including myself in that crowd, because the color of my skin still allows me privileges it doesn’t give you.

I can buy a car or a house easier than you. If you buy a nice car or house, the police are more likely to believe it isn’t yours.

Remember when Henry Louis Gates was arrested in front of his own house because when he came back from a trip to China, he found that his front door was jammed, so he and his driver tried to pry it open? The neighbors called 911 and claimed someone was breaking into the house. Gates is one of my favorite authors and has been on TV for interviews plenty. (“Finding Your Roots” hadn’t started yet.) Yet, no one recognized him or believed him in the moment.

If it can happen to a respected scholar, it can happen to any black person in America….. like Amanda Gorman, who had literally just been on TV a few weeks before, and if I remember right, it was a national broadcast (that’s the one joke you’ll get in this piece).

I am heartened by the election of Rev. Raphael Warnock, for a very particular reason. He went to Union Theological Seminary after he graduated from Morehouse. At Union, he went all the way to a doctoral degree. He is the antithesis of everything the Religious Right (which is neither) has done to the Republican Party. Instead of living in a comfort zone thisbig by emphasizing fear of hell and damnation, he is letting his votes be inspired by what the historical Christ would have wanted. He is bringing the kindom of God through the soul of politics, which I would support even if I was an atheist…. because his theology is one of civil rights for all, feeding and caring for the least of us, and changing our racial identity as a country, which for a long time has been rightly compared to South African apartheid. He is not trying to convert people to his religious beliefs, just using them to ask himself the important questions.

In “The Black Church” on PBS, Henry Louis Gates paraphrases James Cone’s work in “The Cross and the Lynching Tree.” I had heard of Cone and the title of his book, but I’d never read it in depth. It struck me where I live.

Gates said that when Africans were first brought to the United States, slave owners forced Christianity on them because there was a lot in it about how slaves should behave (that is a whole different story for another day, but sufficed to say, that interpretation is abominable…. and at the very least, the slave owners should have paid more attention to the master’s responsibilities, the bare minimum for people that misunderstood those scriptures so badly). The slave owners didn’t anticipate that the slaves wouldn’t identify with those scriptures at all, but the man who was beaten and crucified, someone they could indeed understand.

To take it a step further, there is no such thing as competitive suffering. Jesus did not suffer more than American slaves, and to say he did is to undermine you both. Howard Thurman said it best when he entitled his magnum opus “Jesus and the Disinherited.” Martin Luther King, Jr. carried a copy of that book everywhere he went, and he kept it close to his heart- literally in the inside pocket of his suit jacket.

There’s probably nothing that I, a nerdy white lady, can offer you in the way of comfort. However, I believe that these two books might become important to you, even if you are not religious. I will also add a second book by James Cone called “Black Theology and Black Power,” which argues that Jesus’ liberation of both Jews and Gentiles alike was the same message that Black Power was preaching. In fact, you’ll read that it was Malcolm X who shook Cone out of his complacency….. Malcolm said that “Christianity was a white man’s religion,” and it stuck with Cone long enough for him to realize that Malcolm was right. The church universal has a lot of work to do in terms of widening the net and dissociating itself from white supremacy…… going back to ancient missionaries trying to bring white European Christian culture to people who already had civilizations older than theirs.

White, heterosexual, cisgender supremacy has become inextricably interrelated with white church. It’s just more polite. Hidden behind smiles and “bless your hearts.” If there is anything the Trump administration showed me, it is that there are still so many people who would treat you as lesser than just because your skin looks different, and treat me as if I am sin personified. I don’t go to a church like that, but I am wary of walking into any of them with which I am not familiar…. or if I’ve heard the things that go on there.

Any church that looks at the Bible as if God literally had a pen in their hand and wrote it all down is ridiculous to me. It was written in a time and place that has no bearing on our own, in addition to being inspired by many, many people…. some of whom made it into the canon, and some who did not. I look at theology as a lens through which I see everything else, and I have to admit, I did not write that sentence. Marcus Borg did. The best analogy I can bring to the table is a scene from “Shadowlands:”

Harry: I know how hard you’ve been praying; and now God is answering your prayers.

Jack: That’s not why I pray, Harry. I pray because I can’t help myself. I pray because I’m helpless. I pray because the need flows out of me all the time, waking and sleeping. It doesn’t change God, it changes me.

I can only hope that the reverse is true with the Black Lives Matter movement… that through the fog, we will carry the light together, bringing along everyone else.

Love,

Leslie

Straight Fragility

The Black Lives Matter movement has changed me in ways I didn’t know I needed. I am beginning to stand up for myself, not afraid to make waves. I hope that I am a white ally in the best sense of the phrase, but I am not naïve enough to think I won’t stumble along the way. The thing I think I’m doing right is that I absolutely know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I am not having the same experience they are, and unless they are a person of color who is also LGBTQ+, they aren’t having the same experience as me, either.

This knowledge has made me less afraid to claim what is mine- to look at what the Black Lives Matter movement is doing, and drawing similarities as to what I can apply to my own life as a minority of a different stripe.

For instance, today it was a Facebook group that asked for a queer roll-call. I got a ton of notifications that said “I’m straight, but I’m an ally.” In what universe is being an ally and being queer equivalent? They may have fought for marriage equality, but they could get married while they were doing it. They’ve never felt the pain of rejection and the internalized homophobia it causes. They’ve never had someone claim that part of their identity is a mental illness. They’ve never had anyone stare in disgust if they gave their spouse a peck on the lips goodbye. They’ve never had to seek out safe space, because being gay in a non-safe space can range from uncomfortable to downright dangerous.

The main difference between the struggle regarding race and sexual orientation is that people can automatically see that I’m white. I haven’t dated anyone for five years and change, so I don’t wear any outward signs that I’m also a minority. Now, because I fit the stereotype of short hair and nails, boys’ clothes, etc. they might have their suspicions, but they can’t say so definitively unless I tell them. Until I was 36, I thought they could, and then I met a straight woman who dressed like me, with roughly the same haircut, and it was a light bulb moment. I wasn’t actually advertising anything. I now know this is true due to the sheer number of men who’ve asked me out on Facebook Dating (man, that algorithm is off).

I also think that straight people wearing the pride flag or associated accessories is problematic. I’m trying to get used to it because it’s popular, but I am, shall we say, old school. Enlightened straight people are over others mistaking them for queer, but for me it is also a matter of cultural appropriation………………. and because I know that my friends mean me no harm, and in fact are cheering me on, I try to let it roll. I know who’s an ally or not among my friend group, but if I meet someone who lights up my world and it turns out they’re straight, my throat tightens. It’s hard putting toothpaste back in the tube, capiche?

The double standard that’s my work to release is that I don’t care if men do it. I’m not interested in them. Whether a man is straight or gay is of no consequence. With women, depending on how much I like them, the effect varies in severity. If I can’t see myself dating them anyway, it’s a simple “nobody’s perfect.” If I can, there may or may not be waterworks I have to pass off as allergies….. because not only am I disappointed, pining for a straight woman is the oldest cliché in the book…. I mean, if Eve had a lesbian friend, I guarantee she was miserable. It makes me feel embarrassed and stupid, and that will last years longer than the actual attraction, because I tend to get stuck in my flaws and failures. If I was weird to you once in 1992, I’m still thinking about it.

The other thing that gets the hairs on the back of my neck to stand up is the community moving toward acceptance of straight people using the word “queer.” I realize that it’s shorthand for all the letters. I get it. The longer the acronym gets, the more comfortable I am with using it, too. At the same time, it feels like being called the f or the n word. I am much more easygoing about queer people reclaiming that word for themselves as opposed to giving straight people license to use it. Not everyone feels the same way I do, and that’s a bitter pill to swallow, because people are increasingly of the “get over it” mindset and I’m just not there- and maybe not ever. Younger people do not have the same word association that I do.

It’s a conundrum, because I feel that the strides younger generations are making are positive. I also feel that if they knew what it was like before they were born, they’d have a different outlook. That’s the other difference that really shines, because unless you are actually the child of a queer person, you don’t inherit our institutionalized pain…. and even though Lindsay (my almost six-years-younger biological sister) didn’t inherit it, she lived through it with me, so we have roughly the same outlook. She uses those lessons every single day in her job (it honors me to no end that I’m part of the reason she took it). She works in government relations for a queer health care outfit in Texas, which in my mind is God’s work. I wouldn’t want to meet with Texas Republicans on issues like trans health care. I would vomit before work out of nerves every single day. She’s just far enough removed from those specific fears to be effective.

It is again why straight allies are so important. I am not interested in denying their contribution. I only get wigged when I feel they are trying to say “we’re in this together.” No the hell we are not. You can run your mouth all day long about gay rights, and other straight people will hear it better from you. But you’re not going to think before going into an unfamiliar situation that it’s possible everyone will hate you when they know. Moreover, that fear is tripled going into an unfamiliar church. The Religious Right is the source of most of the things that cause me pain, because their bile is still infecting millions. You are not in danger if a trans person uses the same bathroom as you. You are not in danger if I’m in the locker room with you.

I mean, I’m not even going to hit on you unless you’re wearing a pride flag.

Unintended Consequences

News just broke that Jussie Smollett has been indicted on felony charges for giving a false statement to the police regarding his racist and homophobic attack. The two men that were arrested previously claimed that Smollett paid them to attack him because Smollet had arranged hate letters to be sent to himself that contained “a white substance” and they were not getting enough attention by local and national media.

To a complete outsider and armchair psychiatrist, this looks like some kind of mania, so I’m going to go easy on him. I have a huge amount of sympathy for doing the wrong thing while not being able to see the world for what it really is. But having sympathy is not the same as thinking that he shouldn’t have consequences. Consequences are the only thing that really work in terms of forcing self-reflection.

Just because my actions created emotional issues and his created legal ones don’t have much weight with me. They are two sides of the same disastrous coin…. well, legal trouble creates emotional trauma, so in this case, the coin has landed on its edge and Smollet is looking down.

The main reason I believe this can be chalked up to mental illness is that he didn’t play this out to the end. Being such a public figure only increases the chances that he would get caught, because the case is automatically more high profile.

And past that, there are the consequences for the queer community at large, not that Smollett ever signed up to be any kind of poster boy, but to me, the unintended consequence is possibly less enlightened people regarding the plight of LGBT people will say that things in the United States aren’t that bad. This attack was rigged, so maybe others are, too.

I would argue that violence against gay men and transgender people is worse than it is for lesbians, statistically, because lesbians fly under the radar, due to the fact that most men think we’re cute and harmless, playtoys for their fantasies and not individuals with agency. There’s also the demeaning and insulting trope I run across frequently, that it’s cheating for straight women to sleep with other men, but women? That’s not cheating at all. That’s an opportunity.

I will never forget one of Kathleen’s friends taking us to a bar where the friend’s parents were drinking and the dad asked us to kiss in front of him. First of all, eww. Second of all, that’s your daughter’s friends. I wasn’t angry because he was drunk, but I was eager to leave because I was extremely nauseous.

So, my hope is that people do not write off emotional and physical violence toward our community, because it happens all the time. ALL THE TIME. We don’t need to make up threats, they’re already here. And with a conservative federal senate and even more conservative state congresses, the law isn’t often on our side. Before the indictment came out, I was reticent to believe that a black gay man would get a fair shake from the Chicago Police, anyway.

From what I have seen, the investigation looks fair, but surely you can see where I’m coming from based on past history.

It will be interesting to hear what Smollett has to say when he is ready to give a statement. I am willing to forgive him, but not to let him off the hook. Apologies must come with changed behavior. Otherwise, the apology is null and void. The intended and unintended consequences are going to be a ripple effect for a long time to come.

What happens when the next queer person is attacked? It’s only a matter of time. It could be happening right now. Are they going to be believed? Or will the echo of Smollett’s attack create more scrutiny than before?

I want to know that when I say something happened to me, that I will be given the benefit of the doubt immediately.

And so do all my brothers and sisters.

The Invisible Hand

I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.

-S. G. Tallentyre (Evelyn Beatrice Hall)

We are in a moral morass thanks to the SCOTUS ruling that a baker does indeed have the right not to sell a wedding cake to a gay couple due to religious beliefs. It would have been a totally different case had the baker just posted a sign that said, “we reserve the right to refuse service to anyone,” and kept his mouth shut. But, he didn’t. He brought in the phrase through counsel that “decorating cakes is a form of art through which he can honor God and that it would displease God to create cakes for same-sex marriages.” Here’s where that gets tricky. It was masterful to bring in artistic expression…. probably the only reason that this became a SCOTUS case in the first place.

Let me be clear- these are the ramblings of my legal brain, after completing a course in Constitutional Law (in which I did very well) and becoming a paralegal in the state of Texas, which does not give me license to either claim understanding of Colorado law or dispense legal advice, but does prove that I understand rules of civil procedure. It has nothing to do with how I feel morally about being treated like a second class citizen. I am talking about jurisprudence, which often departs from morality.

The truth is that the ruling was sound. I’m sorry, it’s terrible, and it’s the truth. One paragraph in a news article regarding Kennedy’s opinion stands out to me, and apart from anything else, it is the question at issue on which the entire case rests:

Kennedy, the author of some of the court’s most important gay-rights rulings, began by explaining that the case involved a conflict between two important principles: on the one hand, the state’s power “to protect the rights and dignity of gay persons who are, or wish to be, married but who face discrimination when they seek goods or services”; and, on the other, the “First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and the free exercise of religion.”

In that vein, I find for the baker as well. Again, artistic expression is key in this First Amendment ruling. It is also important to note that this case began before Kennedy’s landmark gay rights rulings occurred, so some of the ruling reflects being “grandfathered.” On the other hand, the state of Colorado did itself no favors:

The Court concluded that the [Colorado Civil Rights] Commission’s actions violated the State’s duty under the First Amendment not to use hostility toward religion or a religious viewpoint as a basis for laws or regulations. Under the facts of this case, the Court determined that Phillips’ religious justification for his refusal to serve Craig and Mullins was not afforded the neutral treatment mandated by the Free Exercise Clause.

This conversation is not over, but it does not begin and end with this SCOTUS ruling. It begins with the American population. An overwhelming majority of Americans support gay marriage, and, in fact, its sanctity. It is time for the hand of the market to reflect it. More powerful than any court decision is not giving money to businesses who discriminate against anyone, and to fight like hell for sexual orientation to become a state and federally protected class.

I understand both sides of the issue- wanting to correct a wrong, and also being skeptical of wanting to give a raging homophobe your money in the first place.

And if you are a liberally religious person, it is time to stand up and reclaim Jesus as your own. Jesus never said anything about homosexuality, so as theologian Jim Rigby proclaims, it cannot be essential to his teachings. I personally believe that because Jesus was all about widening the net of acceptance, he would be horrified at current Biblical literalism. As in all things, I could be wrong, but I doubt it. If we are to have true religious freedom in this country, the Religious Left needs to do more to make itself known- not that they are not fighting the good fight, but they do not have the clout, basically controlling an entire political party, of the Religious Right. It is not my goal for the Religious Left to control the Democratic Party, because I believe that separation of church and state should remain intact.

I do believe, however, in protesting all of the freedoms that the Religious Right says we should not enjoy, because they are trying to create a theocracy…. As in, you can have religious freedom as long as it’s the one we believe, too.

Never forget that we also have the right to fight like hell for freedom from religion, as well. Even as a liberal Christian, I am on board with this, because again, separation of church and state should remain intact. Religion can and should influence how we vote, but as a result of going into our closets to pray and meditate, not trying to subvert the entire political process.

We were warned a long time ago, and we didn’t listen:

Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the [Republican] party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.

-Barry Goldwater

It has become so prevalent that the word “Christian” is associated with bigotry and literalism that it sometimes makes me sick to my stomach to admit I am one, because I don’t want to be lumped in with the uncompromising Word of God™ that needs no translation after thousands of years, becoming stagnant and not the ever-living document it was meant to be. For instance, I think that we are constantly adding to the Gospel, that our words are no less important than the ones set forth for us by the writers of the Old and New Testaments. They were just regular people, like us, who felt divine inspiration…. and not only that, it was a regional council in 1546 which resulted in the Canon of Trent.

Furthermore, the King James edition was specifically made to reflect the views of the Church of England, the basis for the Protestant church today. So think about all of those regular people we left out…. all of whom had something to say and weren’t deemed worthy of inclusion.

We all need to keep writing the Gospel of our lives, whether or not it is deemed officially worthy of inclusion, because even if we are not included in “canon,” it is already well-documented that it doesn’t matter. Someone else long ago threw out regular people’s truths because it didn’t line up with their beliefs…. but that doesn’t render them invalid.

Because if we’re going to talk about religious freedom and the government, it has to reflect the changes in our own lives, as well. My favorite stories are the ones in which Biblical literalists step into the light of inclusion, leaving behind the comfort zone that is only “thisbig,” due to the threat of hellfire and damnation…. or simply reaching out to someone unlike themselves after un-thinking that it is unpleasing to God.

The reality is that reaching out to people unlike yourselves is the entire point of the Gospel. For that part, there is no translation needed.

We have to prove it with our money. Few things speak louder than fear of losing money or going completely bankrupt because of discrimination. We may have to drag bigotry out of society kicking and screaming, but it is what needs to happen. We cannot rely on the courts to do it for us. Some things have to start with realizing what is true for us, and acting on it.

Sometimes, the invisible hand of God working in our lives coincides with the invisible hand of the free market. It can either be life-stifling or life giving.

You get to choose.

Amen.
#prayingonthespaces